With 30 suitors, a two-hour premiere and a penchant for drama, ABC’s “The Bachelorette” returns Monday night. Though fan favorite Katie Thurston was friend-zoned by Matt James on Season 25 of “The Bachelor,” she snuck her way into viewers’ hearts with her no-nonsense attitude and bold pink vibrator in tow.
Now the 30-year-old bank-marketing manager is the series’ leading lady as the “Bachelor” franchise still grapples with the fallout from James’ season as new hosts take center stage.
In June 2020, James, 29, whose mother is white and father is Nigerian, was announced as the first Black bachelor in the franchise’s history. While his season promised to be historic, it underscored “The Bachelor’s” inability to address race and racism, fueled by infighting and catalyzed by one contestant’s antebellum-themed photos from college.
During James’ season, 2018 photos surfaced on social media of 24-year-old contestant Rachael Kirkconnell attending an “Old South” plantation party as an undergrad at Georgia College State & University. Furthermore, TikTok users unearthed evidence of Kirkconnell dressed in Native American costumes and allegedly liking social media posts supportive of former President Donald Trump.
While the lovable Thurston was eliminated in Week 6 of “The Bachelor,” Kirkconnell made it to the finale and was given the final rose.
Following the discovery, the first Black bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay, interviewed Chris Harrison for “Extra” about Kirkconnell’s behavior. Harrison told Lindsay that “there’s a big difference” between 2018 and 2021, which sparked a national uproar. The response prompted Harrison to announce that he would be leaving the season, caused a fissure between James and Kirkconnell and resulted in some “Bachelor” fans hurling online insults at Lindsay for criticizing Harrison’s nonchalant, racially insensitive comment.
Consequently, James and Kirkconnell parted ways, and ex-NFL player Emmanuel Acho replaced Harrison as the host of the “After the Final Rose” ceremony. During the special, it was announced that former “Bachelor” contestants Thurston and Michelle Young would be the bachelorettes for seasons 17 and 18, respectively.
Weeks later, Kirkconnell and James were spotted together in New York City. Although he confirmed that he’s pursuing a relationship with Kirkconnell, Harrison’s relationship status with the franchise remains unclear.
Harrison, who has hosted the series since 2002, won’t be back for Thurston’s season or for the foreseeable future. This season of “The Bachelorette” will be hosted by show alums Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe, while the upcoming August season of “Bachelor in Paradise” will be led by David Spade and a rotating lineup of guest hosts.
Thurston said in a new USA Today interview that while Harrison’s departure is “tough,” she didn’t interact with him much and cannot speak to how this season may be different.
However, on May 26, Thurston shared an Instagram post saying that she can’t wait for viewers to meet the contestants. As Thurston was steadfast in confronting and shutting down mean girls during Season 25, she wrote that she is “protective” of the men she met along her “Bachelorette” journey, as they “each hold a special place in (her) heart.”
Apart from the limo-entrance antics and contestant challenges, Thurston is earnest in her pursuit of love and wants viewers to “stay kind in this” as the season unfolds.
Although James didn’t quite give Thurston her well-earned flowers on “The Bachelor,” now she’ll be the one handing them out. While the franchise decides how to navigate (or ignore) its own racial reckoning, Thurston will be deciding which contestant is her true love.
You can watch full episodes of Season 17 of “The Bachelorette” on Monday nights at 5 p.m. Pacific on ABC, on the ABC app or on Hulu+ Live TV.